Easy Outdoor Science Experiments For Kids

Checking the strength of the wind is just one easy outdoor science experiment.
Checking the strength of the wind is just one easy outdoor science experiment.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Finding out about the world around you is even more fun when you try these easy outdoor science experiments for kids. What could be better than a day spent outdoors, exploring your environment? Whether you're discovering something about your own backyard or collecting rocks from outer space, the experiments found in the following articles will give you hours of entertainment.

It doesn't matter if it's raining or sunny, day or night -- we have it covered. There's an experiment for just about any kind of day. The following activities are simple enough for young kids, but they're just as interesting and fun for older kids, too.

Check these out:

Leaf Scents

Did you know that leaves have their own special scents? Check out this activity to learn more.

Wind Detective

Be a "wind detective" to discover how breezy or blustery the day is. Find out how to classify the wind's strength.

Cricket Degrees

Crickets are nature's thermometers. See what this little bug can tell you about the outside temperature.

Lawn Census

Do you know what's living in your lawn? Find out when you take a lawn census.

Can Rocks Float?

Do all rocks sink to the bottom of a lake or stream? Learn the answer to this question.

It Came From Outer Space

No, it's not a space alien, but it does come from outer space. Check out this cool experiment.

Sun-Baked

Want to see a good reason to wear sunscreen? Try this experiment.

Raincoats for Cotton Balls

Let a cotton ball be your guide! Here's a fun way to learn which type of fabric will keep you dry when it rains.

Let's get started! You know that flowers and herbs have special scents, but what about leaves? Try the experiment on the next page to check your "leaf scents."

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Leaf Scents

Leaf scents aren't completely unfamiliar: If you've ever smelled kitchen herbs like rosemary or basil, you already know that each of these leaves has its own particular scent. But did you know that there are special leaf scents associated with the trees and shrubs in your yard and neighborhood?

Although their aromas aren't as powerful as the scents of most herbs, the leaves of trees and shrubs often can be identified by their specific scents. Try this experiment to find out for yourself what leaves smell like, and then see if you can match the tree with the leaf scent.

What You'll Need:

  • Leaves of various trees or shrubs

How to Learn about Leaf Scents:

Step 1: Pick a leaf from a tree and crush it in your hand.

Step 2: Hold it to your nose and sniff. What does it smell like? Can you describe the scent? Some leaves smell musty. Conifers have a strong pine-oil odor. Other leaves may smell fresh or sharp.

Step 3: Try this with as many kinds of trees and shrubs as you can find.

Step 4: Now, test yourself. Close your eyes and have someone crush a leaf for you to smell, or make a pile of different leaves and draw from it with your eyes closed.

When you're outside collecting leaves, you might want to pay attention to how hard the wind is blowing. Keep reading to learn about a special way to rank the wind's strength.

For more fun activities and crafts, check out:

Wind Detective

A strong breeze can be refreshing, but you won't want to be out in a gale.
A strong breeze can be refreshing, but you won't want to be out in a gale.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

You can become a "wind detective" just by using your powers of observation. When you step outside, do you notice if the leaves on the trees are moving? Can you feel a breeze against your skin?

Of course, it's easy to tell the difference between a gentle breeze and a strong wind, but a little detective work -- reading the clues around you -- can help you to make a more accurate description of the wind's force.

In the early 1800s, a British admiral named Francis Beaufort came up with a system so that describing the wind's strength would mean the same thing to everybody. The table below shows the Beaufort Scale, which shows how each level of the wind looks, both at sea and on land.

Type of wind / Clues at sea / Clues on land

0 - Calm / Smooth water / Smoke rises straight up

1 - Light air / Small ripples / Smoke drifts sideways

2 - Light breeze / Small wavelets / Leaves and weather vanes move

3 - Gentle breeze / Larger wavelets; foam / Twigs move

4 - Moderate breeze / Small waves / Branches move; flags flap

5 - Fresh breeze / Medium waves; spray / Small trees sway

6 - Strong breeze / Large waves, up to ten feet / Large branches sway

7 - Strong wind / Waves 18 - 24 feet / Larger trees sway; flags stand straight out

8 - Fresh gale / Waves up to 23 - 30 feet / Twigs break; hard to walk

9 - Strong gale / Waves 25 - 33 feet / Road signs blow down

10 - Storm / Waves 29 - 40 feet / Trees fall over

11 - Violent storm / Waves 37 - 50 feet, foam covers surface / Widespread damage

12 - Hurricane / Waves 45 - 60 feet, heavy spray and foam / Widespread destruction

How to Be a Wind Detective:

Step 1: Each day, look for clues that show how strong the wind is. Is it a 0 day or a 7 day? Is it a light breeze or a fresh breeze?

Step 2: Record your observations in a notebook or on your computer.

Another fun outdoor experiment is to figure out the temperature by listening to crickets. Learn about "cricket degrees" on the next page.

For more fun activities and crafts, check out:

Cricket Degrees

Crickets are thought of as nature's thermometers.
Crickets are thought of as nature's thermometers.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

"Cricket degrees" is a simple trick that's a surprisingly accurate way to tell the outside temperature -- just by listening to crickets!

The trick has to do with counting the number of cricket chirps. It's why crickets are often called "nature's thermometers." You really can tell the temperature by listening to crickets.

How to Use Cricket Degrees:

Step 1: Go outside in the evening to a place where you can hear crickets. Try to listen for the chirp of just one cricket.

Step 2: Count its chirps for 14 seconds.

Step 3: Write down the number, and then add 40 to it.

The sum will tell you the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit -- those are cricket degrees!

Crickets are just one kind of inhabitant of your yard. Learn about the many others by taking a lawn census. Keep reading to learn more.

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Lawn Census

The U.S. census -- a count of the population -- is taken every ten years, but you can do a "lawn census" whenever your lawn needs to be mowed. A census is simply a way to learn about the people who live in a certain area, so when you take a "lawn census," you will find out who is living in your lawn -- and how many of them are living there.

You can also discover other things, such as what kind of grass grows there and if there are different kinds of weeds. Then, be a census taker for the population that lives in your yard. You just might meet some beetles, spiders, worms, grubs, and other lawn dwellers.

What You'll Need:

  • Lawn
  • Notebook
  • Pencil
  • Magnifying glass (optional)

How to Take a Lawn Census:

Step 1: When your lawn is ready to be mowed, get down on your hands and knees and look for animal life. Use your magnifying glass to find the really tiny creatures.

Step 2: Write down what you see.

Step 3: On the morning after the lawn is mowed, take a second census. (Are the same weeds still alive?) Hunt for lawn creatures again. How did they avoid the mower?

Step 4: Write down your observations.

Would you be surprised to learn that rocks can float? Check out the experiment on the next page.

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Can Rocks Float?

Not all rocks will sink in water.
Not all rocks will sink in water.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Can rocks float? Most rocks drop with a "ker-plop" to the bottom of a stream or a lake, so your answer would probably be a loud "No!"

You might be surprised, then, to find out that not all rocks sink like ... well, a rock. There is a volcanic rock that won't sink when tossed into the drink. In fact, it will float and bob at the top. Don't believe it? Check it out.

What You'll Need: ­

  • Pumice
  • Bucket or bowl of water

How to Find Out: "Can Rocks Float?"

Step 1: Pumice is created by volcanic activity. It looks different from other rocks and even feels light when you hold it in your hand, but it's a genuine rock.

Step 2: Drop your pumice in a bucket filled with water.

Step 3: Try to sink your rock -- you won't be able to keep it down. It will float!

Another kind of rock that is fun to collect actually comes from outer space. Keep reading to learn how you can find it.

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It Came From Outer Space

"It came from outer space" is a phrase that might apply to more things than you think! Although we're usually unaware of it, the earth is constantly bombarded with space rocks. They come from outer space as large rocks and are known as meteorites if they reach the earth's surface.

Most often, though, they burn up in the atmosphere long before they reach Earth. And of the few rocks that do drop to earth, most have become dust or small bits of rock by the time they reach the planet's surface. Tiny stone meteorites are hard to find, but iron meteorites are easy to collect.

What You'll Need:

  • Bed sheet
  • Magnet
  • Plastic bottle

How to Find Rocks that Come from Outer Space:

Step 1: On a still, clear night, lay a sheet on the ground. (Make sure you place it out in the open, away from trees.)

Step 2: Hold the edges of the sheet down with rocks or bricks so it doesn't blow away, and leave it there all night.

Step 3: In the morning, examine the sheet. You'll notice it's a little bit dirty. Most of this dirt is dust from the air, but some of it came from space!

Step 4: Take a magnet and pass it slowly over the sheet. If there are any iron particles from meteorites, they will stick to the magnet.

Step 5: Gently scrape the iron particles off the magnet and store them in a container, such as a plastic bottle or a film canister. Meteorite particles make a great addition to your rock collection!

Now try an experiment that uses the sun. Keep reading to learn what would happen if you allowed yourself to be sun-baked.

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Sun-Baked

If you stay out in the sun too long, will your skin become sun-baked? Too much sun exposure can be unhealthy. There's an easy way to see the effect of the sun's rays -- without sacrificing your own skin.

Try this experiment, which uses soft leather scraps. Before you begin, take four scraps of leather and staple them to a block of wood. The leather is going to act as your "skin" for this experiment.

What You'll Need:

  • Soft leather scraps
  • Block of wood
  • Stapler
  • Sunscreen
  • Baby oil
  • Water

How to See If Your Skin Would Be Sun-Baked:

Step 1: Rub a thick layer of sunscreen across the top of one strip, rub baby oil over the second strip, and pour water on the third. Leave the fourth one natural.

Step 2: On a hot summer day, take the strips of leather outside and leave them in the sun.

Step 3: On the next hot, sunny day, reapply the sunscreen, baby oil, and water, and repeat the process. Keep doing this every hot, sunny day.

Step 4: At the end of the summer, closely examine how the strips of leather held up. Now imagine that the leather is your own skin.

When the sun's not shining, you can still have fun with an outdoor experiment. Keep reading to learn about a rainy-day activity.

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Raincoats for Cotton Balls

Raincoats for cotton balls shows you the best way to stay dry when it rains. This clever experiment will show you which type of clothes will serve you best if you're caught outside during a rainstorm.

Will you get soaked to the skin -- or stay as dry as a bone? Let a cotton ball be your guide.

What You'll Need:

  • Cotton balls
  • Scraps of five different fabrics
  • Stapler
  • Piece of wood
  • Staple remover

How to Make Raincoats for Cotton Balls:

Step 1: Take five cotton balls and five scraps of different types of fabric. Make sure each fabric scrap is large enough to cover a cotton ball.

Step 2: The next time it looks like rain, put the cotton balls on the piece of wood and cover each one with a different scrap of fabric.

Step 3: Staple the fabric to the wood so the wind doesn't disrupt your experiment.

Step 4: Leave the cotton balls out in the rain for about five minutes.

Step 5: Bring them inside, and using a staple remover, peel back the fabric from each cotton ball, one at a time.

Which cotton ball stayed the driest? Which balls are completely soaked? What you find will help you decide which kind of coat to use when it rains.

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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Leaf Scents by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls

Lawn Census by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls

Can Rocks Float? by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls

They Come from Outer Space by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls

Sun-Baked by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls

Raincoats for Cotton Balls by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls